Section 3b, Pre-Modern Literature | Session 2, Panel

Reading, writing, rewriting: The sociology of texts in premodern Japan

Organizer/Chair: Michael Watson (Meiji Gakuin University)

Presenters: Aldo Tollini, Kimiko Kôno, Gian Piero Persiani, Yasuhiko Ogawa

Production, transmission, and reception are key topics in the sociology of texts. The four case studies consider how literary works are set down in writing, how they are read, and how they are rewritten by later readers, in interpretation or new creation.

The first two speakers discuss Buddhist writings that represent milestones in the history of Japanese thought.

Tollini discusses Shôbôgenzô, virtually unread for centuries after Dogen's death until it was rediscovered. What does it mean for a long-neglected work to be read again and to achieve canonical status?

Kôno examines the reception of Chinese scholarship in the earliest Japanese study of logic. The Chinese sources survive only in fragments, but can be reconstructed through a close reading of the Japanese text's use of anecdotal material.

This provides a link to Persiani's paper on anecdotes about poets in medieval setsuwa. Through humor and exaggeration, the tales react to other discursive modes: refinement of courtly prose and poetry, and the dry factuality of historical narratives.

From rewriting the lives of poets we move finally to Ogawa's study of the oldest poetical anthology, and the question of when vocalized reading became silent reading. The physical layout of early Man'yôshû texts provides evidence that the poems were originally recited aloud by specialists who were able to read fluently and smoothly, despite the lack of punctuation and phrase markings. Silent reading only later became possible with changes in the way the text and annotation of poems were set down in writing.

The rediscovery of a text: The case of Shôbôgenzô

Aldo Tollini (University of Venice)

Shôbôgenzô is the most important and best known work of Dôgen (1200-1253), and a masterpiece not only of Buddhist doctrine and practice, but also a landmark in the history of Japanese thought. It was written over a long span of time, from 1231 to the year of the author's death in 1253. There are versions known to exist that consist of 12, 75, and 95 chapters.

Surprisingly, however, the text of Shôbôgenzô lay dormant for centuries, and its importance was not acknowledged until relatively recently. Its author was a great Buddhist master from whose teaching there sprang one of the most important schools of Buddhism. And yet the text played a very minor role in the history of the Sôtô Zen school until the mid-eighteenth century. It was not recognized as one of the central texts in Japanese thought until even later, until the second decade of the twentieth century. By investigating the reasons for the remarkable changes in the fortunes of this particular text we can understand better how and why certain texts are rediscovered, given importance and even canonized.

The use of Chinese quotations in Bright Lantern Notes to the Introduction of Logic

Kimiko Kôno (Waseda University)

Bright Lantern Notes to the Introduction of Logic (Inmyôronsho Myôtôshô) by the Kôfukuji monk Zenju (723-797) has been called the first major Japanese study of theory. It is based on the commentary by the Chinese monk Cien to an important Sanskrit study of logic by Sankaravamin. Zenju subdivided the commentary and added further detailed annotation. The work contains a large number of quotations, not only from Buddhist texts (naiten) but also from other Chinese works (geten).

Bright Lantern Notes not only gives a picture of how Chinese scholarship and culture were received in Japan, but also preserves remnants of Chinese works that have not survived in China. Although its linguistic value has long been recognized, there are many other aspects which repay further study. This paper will look at the quotations from the fragmentary "Investigations into Deities (Ch. Soushenji). One question to be discussed is how the story of Confucius' strange birth recorded in a Soushenji fragment came to be quoted in Myôtôshô, and how it is possible to determine that the story is in fact from the Soushenji.

Zenju was a founder of Yuishiki ("mind only") and Inmyô ("logic") thought, and a leading scholar-monk of his time. His contemporary Keikai included two stories about his spiritual power in Nihon ryôiki.

Abusing The Muse: Mid-Heian Poetic Sages in Medieval Anecdotal Literature

Gian Piero Persiani (Columbia University)

From the late Heian period, poetry becomes increasingly intertwined with parallel discourses, most notably the religious. As poet-courtiers begin to be venerated as sages or saints, however, they also become the target of fierce popular satire. Medieval anecdotal literature from the setsuwa and karon (poetry treatises) traditions contains depictions of poets, some pathetically inept, others desperately poor, overweight or decrepit. As one browses through this often wildly funny body of writing some of the signature features of the burlesque emerge: a taste for exaggeration, graphic humor, and perhaps most typical of the genre, a persistent concern for physicality. While they make no attempt to offer something even vaguely resembling character psychology, these tales endow their protagonists with shabby clothes and disproportionate appetites, with bodies that stumble and fall, age, lose hair.

The irreverent portrayal of the Heian mid-aristocracy in setsuwa literature stands alongside, and in sharp contrast with both the refined universe of court culture (monogatari and waka) and the stark factuality of official history in Sino-Japanese. To these other genres, the 'tale of poets' is indebted in many respects, but most fundamentally for its source materials. Even the faintest bit of factual evidence (a date, a circumstance, or a simple name) could provide the ingredients for a story. The record of an imperial outing in Sanesuke's Shôyûki, for instance, was the pretext to describe how Sone no Yoshitada is beaten as an uninvited freeloader by an unusually crude Kaneie.

By examining the free treatment of "history" in these tales, the paper addresses the question of how texts, and the knowledge of the past they carry, are circulated among later readerships, and perhaps more importantly, considers how the conventions and uses of a genre constrain the way writers handle their sources, orienting their work toward sets of genre-specific solutions.

The original layout of the Man'yôshû: From vocalized to silent reading

Yasuhiko Ogawa (Aoyama Gakuin University)

The oldest extant text of the Man'yôshû is believed to have been a scroll following the standard form of Chinese-style books. From the time of the early copies of the Man'yôshû in the Heian period, there is a difference in the height of the waka and its preceding explanation, but originally both are thought to have been of the same height. In addition, no space has been left between phrases, and no punctuation marks (kutôten) have been included, so that it seems certain that the Man'yô poems were read aloud by a trained reader who was able to make sense of the series of Chinese characters that made up each poem, and to recite the anthology fluently from the first poem to the end. In the eighth century, a great number of notes were inserted, either into the text of the waka or following the text. In the Chinese cultural sphere, there were different guidelines for the format of scrolls that included notes inserted into the text, and those scroll that did not. With this change of layout, the Man'yôshû became a work that was read silently.

EAJS 05, Programme